Organization in the Garden: Evaluating What You Have and What You Need

Organization in the Garden: Evaluating What You Have and What You Need


January tends to find me just a little bit giddy. Throughout the fall and early winter, I am just pooped from gardening and preserving season. I don’t really want to see another canning jar, or hardly even another fresh tomato, and going out to get the garden prepped for over the winter is the last thing I feel like doing.

And then comes January. Christmas is finished. Plans for the new year have begun. Seed catalogues begin to look oh-so-appealing once again. Suddenly I am smitten with my love for all things glorious and green and growing. I can’t stop thinking about what I will plant in the spring or how early I can work my soil. Planning out my seed shopping list is a deliciously fun and inspiring task, as I sort through what new and unique plants I will add to my repertoire this year!

So how exactly does one prepare for the coming spring and summer of gardening?

There are two major areas that I look at when I begin to plan and scheme for the upcoming season:

  1. Seeds- what I already have, what I need, new things I want to try, placing my order as quickly as possible
  2. Garden Planning- a seed starting schedule, outdoor planting dates, drawing up my garden layout of what will be planted where

Today, let’s talk seeds. Later in the week we’ll look at garden planning.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past week or two sorting through my seeds and determining what to buy for this upcoming season. To get ready and make my decisions, here’s what I did:

  • Sorted through all of my remaining seeds from other years and made a list of exactly what I have- which varieties and how much of each seed
  • Made a list of what I want to plant this year, and a basic garden layout sketch to ensure that it’s actually feasible
  • Dreamily read through my Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog and highlighted everything that looked good or interesting to me. So yes, I highlighted approximately 3/4 of the book. Just kidding. Sort of.
  • Went back through the catalog with my list of what I actually need to buy, narrowed down my choices to what I thought were the best or most intriguing varieties
  • Made my order as quickly as I could, because I want to be sure that I have plenty of time to receive my seeds, get my seedlings started and growing well in time to harden them off and have them out in the garden even earlier than last year.

I almost wrote a post describing how to choose seeds, and then I realized that I had already written a fairly thorough one last year, so why reinvent the wheel?

For more seed-buying tips, see my post from last year: Buying Seeds for your Garden

I have learned a few things over my 3 years of gardening and my seed selecting criteria is growing a bit more refined. Here are a few tips that I would add to the above post, knowing what I know now. When selecting your particular varieties of each plant (ie. which tomato out of the hundreds of options you could choose from), these are some things that I’ve learned to look closely at:

  • Days to maturity. Where I live we have a pretty good spring and fall growing season, but the actual part of summer that is really warm and sunny is a bit shorter. When I look for something like a melon or pepper to attempt, I’m aiming for something in the 60-75 day range if possible, rather than 80-90. Consider the length of your season, how long it’s truly hot for, etc.
  • Characteristics of a variety. Do I want a soft leaf lettuce or a crisp romaine style? Do I want really large, juicy tomatoes or smaller, firmer ones? Am I really cool with (and will my family willingly eat) something that looks a bit different, like a brown bell pepper or a yellow carrot or purple broccoli?
  • Specialty features. Among heirlooms, sometimes you can look for specific things, like the insect-resistant purple cauliflower I grew last year. Or the slow-bolt cilantro I discovered this year, since my cilantro bolted last year before my first tomato ever ripened. So much for salsa!
  • Early and Late varieties. With my tomatoes, it’s nice to have both. This year I’ll have some early, some mid-season, and I’m adding one called Long Keeper for toms that I can pick unripened and will slowly ripen up until Christmas!
  • Yields. Many garden catalogs will tell you if a particular variety is heavier yielding (or if its lower), whether it yielded for a longer season than other varieties, etc. When you’re growing in a relatively small garden and want to maximize your space, it helps to keep your eyes out for types of vegetables or fruits that have more abundant yields. Because who doesn’t want to get more for their efforts?

Have you bought your garden seeds yet? How do you choose which seeds to buy?

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  1. I got my order from Baker Creek and Kitchen Garden Seeds last week. I had to really restrain myself this year. I love growing unusual veggies so I literally pour over Baker Creek’s catalog for hours. (I should note that I save seeds so I really don’t need a whole lot. Wanting though is a different story!) In the end though, I limited myself to just a couple of unusual varieties that I thought would grow well here. Well I did make one impulsive purchase – I got seeds to grow pink bananas. I couldn’t resist even if I am going to have to drag the tree inside for the winter. LOL.

  2. This is our first ever year with a garden (hurray!) so I am getting very excited about choosing seeds – this info will be very helpful thanks! By the way, how is your apple tree getting on? We have the luxury of several apple and plum trees well established here so I am looking forward to late summer already!
    .-= Hevs´s last blog ..St Nicolas’ Day =-.

    1. @Hevs, Well, the apple tree didn’t fare well its first year. For some reason it lost all of its leaves during the summer and I thought it was dead, but then everything grew back. Perhaps shock from being moved? I replanted it this fall with some good fertilizing and pruned it as well and so far it’s still looking really healthy so we’ll see how this summer goes!

  3. Have you ever seen West Coast seeds? I am assuming, since you live there. I know I don’t live there, and therefore some of their seed does not apply, but much of it is okay if I look at the maturity dates etc. Many things that will overwinter there will do great here in summer LOL. Anyways I love their site, customer service, catalogue etc. very easy to read. I also just got a William Dam seed catalogue (all untreated seeds) it can be hard to find an untreated seeds catalogue in my experience.

    I’ve been looking at catalogues too as you can tell. I choose my seeds based on untreated ones…and then some hybrid, some not, some heirloom, etc. I prefer a mix since each has its own pros. and cons. I pick based on ones that germinate well in cool wet soil, if possible, ones that are frost hardy as possible, ones that have fast maturity dates too. If something is like 90 days…it better be frost hardy. I also try for a few different maturity dates or space out plantings to get different things harvesting at different times.

    I am not really feeling ready for planting though. Thankfully we can’t get gardening until April for transplants starting and then at least May…many things even June. I still have time. 🙂 I need to buy things the next few months though.

    1. @Nola, I don’t get much planted until at least late March (frost-hardy), or April for regular spring stuff. My summer stuff can’t go in until May for sure. But I like to have my seeds a bit early, esp. for starting my tomato/pepper/melon seedlings, as well as my cauli/broccoli seedlings.

      I have tried West Coast seeds. I don’t make regular orders from them, but I have bought some locally every year and they’re great. I’m fortunate that one local nursery has a nice selection of their seeds, so whatever I find myself short on or things I’ve forgotten to order, I can go get them there. I’ve tended to stick with this one company, Baker Creek, because it’s all untreated and heirloom and non-GMO (certified- they actually check). But there are sooo many great seed companies out there!

      1. @Stephanie @ Keeper of the Home, I’ll have to get a catalogue from them too. I just don’t like not having any option of having any hybrids, since I feel that they can be a good thing if the other seeds are also kept going.

        Wow I can’t imagine planting in March or April. Our “frost hardy” stuff goes in the middle of May at earliest. Can’t do much succession planting around here!

        Wanted to ask (why I came back again to comment) how do your store your seeds in the off season? I imagine you have a frugal but good way…so far mine have not been stored properly, but there wasn’t much left anyways. It often pays to buy a bigger pack…

        1. @Nola, First off, thanks for spelling it “catalogue”! 🙂 I kept spelling it that way in my post and my American-version spell check was driving me nuts telling me that I was wrong, so I gave in and spelled it the American way. But I like the “ue” on the end!

          And the way that I store my seeds year round, whether it’s off season or not, is in a ziploc bag in my fridge. The only time I ever take them out is to look through and see what I have, or to pull the packets that I want to plant. When I’m finished, back in the bag they go and they always stay in the fridge. So far, it’s kept my seeds pretty well. The reason I like doing it this way is that things like squash, cucumbers, herbs, etc. go a really looong ways when you only plant a couple seeds of each in a year, right? So I can get several good years out of one pack. Of course, carrots, peas, beets, etc. I buy fresh every year.

  4. My mouth is just figuratively watering reading this! I live in an apartment with a patio so I’ve had to restrain my seed buying!

    Last year was my first year trying to grow my own vegetables (in pots) and I chalked it up to a “trainer garden.” Learning how much to water, what to do when my squash got mold, figuring out I needed much deeper pots for my carrots, etc.

    One day I plan on having a good sized garden that can feed our family. You’re just helpin’ keep the dream alive!
    .-= Kait Palmer´s last blog ..WC Days 9, 10 & 11 =-.

    1. @Kait Palmer, Just a thought… for carrots in pots, have you thought of trying one of the heirloom short varieties? There are some that are more of a baby carrot size (well, a bit longer than the fake baby carrots in the store- more of a fingerling type of carrot) and also some that are more short and round, almost like a radish or something. Those would be great to grow in pots!

  5. We had a sad little garden last year, but I am determined to do a great one this time. I know very little, so I am glad for your generous information. Why buy seeds from a catalog and not from the store? Thanks!

    1. @Michelle, No reason, really, except that the particular seeds I want to buy (heirloom, open-pollinated seeds) are not available in most stores. I get them cheaper and a better variety buying them online. I use the catalogs because I am a paper & pen kind of person and I like to actually hold the book in my hands, flip through it and make notes. When I’ve had my fill, then I buy them online. 🙂

      But seriously, if you’re new to gardening go ahead and buy them from the store. Or be adventurous and try getting some different things from a catalog or online store. Either way, the point is just that you’re doing it! Good luck with your garden this year!

  6. We have a HUGE garden and just yesterday my husband and I said we needed to start planning it for this year! Your post has given me added inspiration…!

  7. Oh how I want a larger and more successful garden this year! I’ve only had good results with green beans and lettuce. This will be my 3rd year of having a garden and I can use any help I can get, so thanks for this post. I have never started any seedlings myself, other than what I can plant directly outside. Obviously, I have lots to learn.

  8. I am, with much anxiety, considering a few containers of tomatoes this year. If they are successful, maybe next year I’ll actually plant something in the ground. The last time we tried a garden, the only thing that was successful was the tomatoes, and I ended up spending an entire day, 8 1/2 months pregnant, canning tomatoes, vowing to never grow another tomato! That was, wow, 20 years ago, counting by the age of the son I was pregnant with! lol! Truly, I have major anxiety over this idea, mostly because I want to do it to save money and I am worried I won’t be successful and will therefore end up spending more than I save. If I can get over this anxiety, maybe I’ll even invest in the wood to build a raised bed this spring. Anyone have any encouraging words???

    1. @Janet,
      Hey Janet,
      I’m not sure if I’m “encouraging” or not, but last year, the pathetic little gardening that we did turned out better in a compost filled garden, than in the pots. I decided it was because the actual garden had little worms moving that soil around and my potted soil seemed to be hard as a rock. Of course I’d pick to grow better in the garden than pot too 🙂
      The only thing that frustrated me was that I took the time to get little seedlings going, and then planted them and the only things that grew were what my husband planted straight into the ground… Oh the love, I guess somethings just aren’t meant to be.
      We are in Texas, so maybe I did everything on bad timing :-/
      Good luck with everything though 🙂

      Stephanie, I already ordered and received my Baker Creek Heirloom seeds… and too excited about planting them!!

      1. Thanks, Lea and Stephanie! Yes, I guess I’d choose to grow better in the ground, too! And getting what I can used is a great idea – I hadn’t thought about trying to get lumber maybe from Craig’s List instead of the lumber store. I hope you really save big this year!!

    2. @Janet, You know, my first year I don’t think I save too much but probably broke even. My second year I saved a little bit. My third year I saved a bit more. My fourth year I anticipate that I will actually save a significant amount of money.

      For me the way to make it feel worth it in the early years is to start small and very cheaply. I didn’t buy much fancy stuff and tried to really make do with what I had. I tried to get things used or free. Keeping my costs low made me feel better about it if it didn’t turn out like I hoped it would! I think you should go ahead and try it this year- you’ll likely be pleasantly surprised!

  9. Raised beds are wonderful! Yes, there is work and money to put in up front, but the results are worth it! We just moved and I am having to start from scratch so I am reminding myself of how wonderful raised beds are 🙂 It is so nice to start with loose soil and be able to control what is in it.
    I have had the most success with tomatoes also and plan to fill 3 beds with all different kinds of tomatoes. I can’t wait! We are avoiding commercially canned tomatoes because of the BPA so canning for the rest of the year is a must. Isn’t it rewarding to grow your own food- there is just something amazing about it. Best of luck to you all with your gardens!
    .-= Natalie´s last blog ..A Penny Saved =-.

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